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Astronomy and space

Astronomy and space

Here is the first full-colour science image from the James Webb Space Telescope

11 Jul 2022 Michael Banks
First look The James Webb Space Telescope’s first “deep field” image was released today at a special event at the White House (Courtesy: NASA, ESA, CSA, and STScI)

US president Joe Biden has unveiled the first spectacular full-colour science image from the $10bn James Webb Space Telescope (JWST).

The image, known as “SMACS 0723”, is the telescope’s first “deep field” picture. It was taken by the JWST’s Near-Infrared Camera and is a composite made from images at different wavelengths. It shows how massive foreground galaxy clusters magnify and distort the light of objects behind them, allowing a deep-field view into extremely distant and faint galaxy populations.

“Today is a historic day,” noted Biden at an event at the White House today. “It shows what we can achieve and what we can discover.”

“[This] is not only the first full-color image from the James Webb Space Telescope, it’s the deepest and sharpest infrared image of the distant universe, so far. This image covers a patch of sky approximately the size of a grain of sand held at arm’s length. It’s just a tiny sliver of the vast universe,” said NASA administrator Bill Nelson. “This mission was made possible by human ingenuity. [The JWST] is just the start of what we can accomplish in the future when we work together for the benefit of humanity.”

“Today represents a new, exciting chapter,” noted US vice president Kamala Harris. ”We can look to the sky with a new understanding. Now we enter a new phase, building on the legacy of Hubble.”

More to come

Four other images will be released at a NASA press conference tomorrow (12 July) at 16:30 CEST.

They are an image of the Carina Nebula, which is one of the largest and brightest nebulae in the sky and is located about 7600 light-years away in the southern constellation Carina.

Another image will be the atmosphere spectra of the WASP-96b exoplanet, which was first announced in 2014. Composed mainly of gas, the planet is located nearly 1150 light-years from Earth and orbits its star every 3.4 days.

Another object that has been pictured is the Southern Ring, or “eight-burst” nebula, which is a planetary nebula almost a half a light-year in diameter and is located approximately 2000 light years away from Earth.

Last but not least, about 290 million light-years away is Stephan’s Quintet in the constellation Pegasus. It is the first compact galaxy group ever discovered where four of the five galaxies within the quintet often have close encounters.

The JWST was launched on 25 December 2021 and a month later it had completed most of the delicate procedures to unfold and unpack the telescope. In February, the JWST released the first unaligned picture followed in late April by the first aligned images.

The JWST is a collaboration between NASA, the European Space Agency and the Canadian Space Agency.

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